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Town, Power Board pact questioned

Madison Mathews • Sep 26, 2012 at 11:23 AM

The legality of an agreement entered into between the town of Jonesborough and the Johnson City Power Board regarding repair and enhancements to the town’s infrastructure was brought into question Tuesday during the utility’s monthly board meeting.

The Power Board’s board of directors unanimously approved an invoice for the town at the cost $288,123.13 for work done during Jonesborough’s repair and enhancement of its downtown underground infrastructure.

That amount covers the actual cost of the town’s street work, including labor, materials and equipment.

The agreement, which was entered into sometime last year, was a “gentlemen’s agreement” between Jonesborough and the Power Board, according to Chief Financial Officer Brent Kitzmiller, who has been serving as interim president and CEO since July 1.

Board member Phil Carriger asked the utility’s legal counsel Tom McKee if former president and CEO, Homer G’Fellers, had the authority to enter into the agreement.

“They require it to be in writing and they require they require it to be approved by the board. Mr. G’Fellers’ authority was limited to $30,000. He did not have the authority to handshake this agreement. It was supposed to be writing. It wasn’t in writing. The bottom line is that this board can now approve the payment of this invoice if you feel like the compensation is deserved,” McKee said.

The agreement stemmed from the Power Board’s work of upgrading underground power lines, including replacing downtown Jonesborough’s primary lines, secondary lines, service connections and transformers.

With the Power Board needing to cut into the street, town officials decided to work alongside the utility’s crews so the town could work a major waterline that runs through the center of downtown as a way for both entities to save money.

McKee said the project itself was approved with the board’s approval of last year’s budget.

“When you approved last year’s budget, you approved this project, so we could’ve gone out and done this project on our own and there wouldn’t have to be any kind of contract or bid or anything,” he said.

The Power Board saved more than $361,000 in partnering with the town than they would have if they had done all of the street work.

Carriger said the board had a “moral obligation” to pay the town, but stressed the importance of following the appropriate channels next time.

“I’m just using this as future reference for the board that things like this do need to be in writing,” he said.

In other business, the board was presented with a list of 10 candidates who will be considered for the position of president and CEO of the utility.

The Power Board’s search committee spent several weeks paring down the list from 49 applicants to the 10 who were chosen for final consideration by the board.

Initially, the names of the candidates were going to be released at Tuesday’s meeting, but board members decided to continue the blind search process until the list is reduced to the candidates who will be interviewed for the position.

Chairwoman Jenny Brock said the blind search has kept politics from entering the discussion, as each candidate is evaluated solely on merit of their resume and qualifications.

She wanted to keep that process moving forward as the full board evaluates the list of 10 candidates.

“It was just such a good process and we really focused on credentials and experience and didn’t think about who was what and all that kind of stuff. It really enables you to see the resumes and applications without any bias or filter in it,” she said.

The board will meet next week to pare down the list, which Brock said could be as many as seven candidates.

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